Confidence in Love
I am enjoying a rather slow read through Krista Tippett’s relatively new book, Becoming Wise. I have followed her “On Being” radio interviews and read her blog for some time. Through these media she has focused on the “big questions of meaning.” In many ways that is what I have focused on in my teaching of undergraduates through these years. In effect Tippett has interviewed wise people from many different faith traditions and from no particular faith tradition. The book is wrapped around these interviews.
One of the things you always get from Tippett’s work is a series of very insightful quotations. As I read along in the book, these quotations keep tumbling off the page. In fact one could read the book only for these nuggets of wisdom. I would like to focus on one such quotation that caught my attention and upon which I would like to reflect more.
In a chapter entitled, “Love,” Tippett has this to say. “People are looking for community, right now, though we don’t have confidence in love.”
This wisdom comes in the midst of her interview with john a. powell, one of the preeminent scholars of civil rights and civil liberties. He is an amazing person and witness to the depth of truth I can only glimpse. The quotation I chose comes in a section where powell is talking about “belonging.” I am not surprised that to talk about belonging ultimately leads to the idea of community. No doubt, it is because I spend a great deal of my time with students and other groups talking about community that I was drawn to this passage.
I would agree people are looking for community. Of course, most folks don’t use that terminology. But on my campus, for example, I see the way fraternities and sororities appeal to students. In some way this appeal is to their search for community. Students come to university to get an education. They know this means going to class, do labs, etc. That is the given. Finding a sense of belonging and community is not a given. They need to search for this.
So I agree with the first half of the statement; people are looking for community. It was the last half of the sentence that surprised me and took me aback. Tippett claims that people don’t have confidence in love. In the immediate read of this sentence, I was not sure what she meant or how she meant it.
As I thought more about it, I suggest she meant that people are looking for community, but often do not find it because they don’t have a confidence in love. As I read a little further, my hunch feels confirmed. We don’t have confidence in love, but she says, “We have much more confidence in anger and hate.” She continues, “We believe anger is powerful. We believe hate is powerful. And we believe love is wimpy.” That is a telling critique of love.
I wanted to push the analysis further. If we believe that love is wimpy, then it is not sufficient to pull off the establishment of community. Therefore as Tippett notes, “…it’s much better to sort of organize around anger and hate.” This bold statement made me wince. But it may be a good way to understand the polarization in our society---the contentious political situation, the rancorous relationship of so many groups in our society, etc.
It is a telling situation if we believe that anger and hate are much more powerful than love. That means love will always lose! Love can never be constructive, but will always be destroyed. I don’t want to believe that. Everything spiritual in me can’t possibly feel like that is true. As a Christian I think about Jesus and see the power of love. Of course, that is an ironical kind of love. The love of Jesus paved the way to his own death. But the death became a principle of organization, the likes of which the world has never see an equal. About a third of the earth’s population claims to be a follower of this Lover who was put to death. And that’s nearly 2,000 years after his death.
That seems to speak of the power of love. And if that spiritual love has that kind of power, then surely we can have some confidence in it. Maybe the slipping point is to understand that confidence is not the same thing as a guarantee. I can understand in my weak faith that I want a guarantee that if I love, it will work. Surely, Jesus did not get that. One could claim it did not work for him. He got killed!
On the other hand, we can claim it is working. There still are millions of us out there who claim that we are followers of the Lover. If that is genuine, then we should have confidence in love---ultimate confidence anyway. My confidence in love may not guarantee me the personal outcome I want. But if I am part of a larger community, my wants are subsumed under the larger desires of the community.
In faith I get it. Confidence is actually a “faith” word. But outside the faith context, I understand why anger and hate seem so much more predictable.